Amelia Earhart, and Doing What You Love

Amelia EarhartOn July 2nd, 1937, somewhere between Lae, New Guinea, and Howland Island, a small coral island in the South Pacific, a final transmission was sent from the pilot of a Lockheed L-10E Electra twin engine plane.  The pilot of the plane was attempting an aerial circumnavigation of the world, and was apparently having difficulty finding Howland Island and the American coast guard cutter Itasca, which had been stationed there to help the plane refuel and to act as a homing beacon.  The final transmission went like this: “We are on a line of position 157/337, will repeat this message, we will repeat this message on 6210 kcs.  Wait.”

These were the last known words of one of the twentieth centuries most remarkable people, Amelia Earhart. Her plane, her co-pilot Fred Noonan, and her own remains have never been discovered.

There’s been a lot of talk about Earhart in the news lately.  You may have heard that the History Channel, this past Sunday, aired a two hour documentary detailing ‘new’ evidence of Earhart’s disappearance.  They released a photograph purporting to show Earhart and Noonan on a dock in the Marshall Islands in 1937, which was at that time occupied by the Empire of Japan.  The theory, as it goes, was that Earhart actually did not crash, that instead she made an emergency landing and was captured by the Japanese as an American spy.

It took very little time for the History Channel’s evidence to be debunked.  A Japanese Fake Amelia Earhartmilitary historian hunted down the photograph, which is probably not of Earhart at all, and found an original date of 1935, two years before Earhart disappeared.  The National Archives, where the photo had been found initially by the History Channel, revealed that they had never been able to confirm a date for the photo, and just like that, the evidence for Amelia Earhart as a Japanese P.O.W. went down in metaphorical flames.

The truth of what happened to Earhart is probably much more simplistic.  There are two likely explanations.  One is that she crash landed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.  This theory posits that she either died in her life raft, or she went down with her plane.  This has never been confirmed, since there is a vast area that would have to be covered by a search team that is thousands of miles wide by some three miles deep, although scientists believe the plane, had it survived the crash, would still be relatively intact on the ocean floor.

NikamuroroThe likelier explanation, one posited by The International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) is that Earhart crash-landed on a tiny Pacific Island known as Nikumaroro (at the time it was called Gardner Island).  This theory states she would have been able to land the plane on a flat stretch of coral that is visible at low tide, and from there would have made one last garbled radio transmission that was unintelligible and was never confirmed to be her.  Then, she and Noonan were left stranded on the island until exposure, heat, thirst, or one of a dozen other things that will eventually happen to anyone unlucky enough to be stranded on a desert island, finished them off.  There are a number of factors that suggest this might be the case.  Gardner Island was in line with the last coordinates that Earhart sent out.  Wreckage of a type similar to that believed to have been on the Lockheed Electra plane has been discovered on the island.  Also found was a shoe, dating from the 1930’s, which is of a type similar to that worn by Earhart.

Ultimately, we still don’t know what happened to Amelia Earhart.  In all likelihood, we never will.  This mystery surrounding her disappearance is one reason that these alternate theories surface from time to time, claiming to reveal the “true story” of what happened to Amelia Earhart.  Part of this is our innate desire to find conspiracy and a complex truth in areas where the simpler explanation will suffice.  Part of it, no doubt, is our reticence to accept that so famous and daring an aviator, a true modern mythological hero, could be vanquished by something so relatively rudimentary as starvation or exposure to the elements.

The disappearance of Amelia Earhart can offer a deeper lesson, however.  Whether Earhart drowned, or died marooned on an island or in a Japanese prison camp, we may never know.  But we do know that Amelia Earhart died in an effort to do something she loved and something in which she believed.  It’s a lesson we should all heed when facing our own mortality.  The question we should ask ourselves is, “If I died today, would it be doing what I believed in, what I am passionate about, and what I truly love?”  Unless you can answer in the affirmative, it may be time to readjust your life, until you too can be chasing your dream the way Amelia Earhart did.

 

Posted in inspirational | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Watson, Biographer to Sherlock Holmes

Watson and SherlockOn this day in history, July 7, 1930, one of English literature’s greatest voices was lost forever.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote many things in life, but for all time he will be remembered as the creator of one of literature’s most iconic and remembered characters, Sherlock Holmes.  The ironic thing about Sherlock Holmes is that it was only through one of Doyle’s other creations, Dr. John H. Watson, that we are able to connect with Holmes at all.  Watson is often universally overlooked as anything more than a sidekick and yet, it is only through his voice that the reader becomes familiar with Holmes.

Watson has often been misinterpreted in various dramatizations of Conan Doyle’s stories.  He has at times been portrayed as a bumbling hindrance at worst, an incompetent fool at best.  But John Watson was no fool.  An ex-military man and a doctor, Watson establishes himself throughout the stories as a man with a sharp mind and a brave heart.  He becomes so trusted by Holmes that he is actually sent, initially, in Holmes’ place to protect Sir Henry Baskerville in the novella The Hound of the Baskervilles.  In The Devil’s Foot, he takes part in a dangerous chemical experiment with Holmes, and it’s only through his quick thinking and brave actions that he is able to rescue his partner from imminent madness and possible death.  Time and again he proves himself as a worthy companion to Holmes, providing invaluable medical insight and a strong arm when needed.

Sherlock Holmes is not an easy character with which to identify.  He is cold, Strand Watson & Sherlockdispassionate, and his capacity for observation and deduction are far beyond the capabilities of the average human being.  Had all the stories been told from his point of view, readers would have had a much more difficult time feeling any connection or the thrill of excitement that came when a revelation occurred.  But we see Holmes through the eyes of Watson, and that makes it easier to relate to him, because we relate to Watson.  Watson is a character we can understand.  When we first meet him in A Study in Scarlet, he has been medically discharged from the army, and is down on his luck and looking for a place to live.  We see him when he meets his future wife, Mary, in The Sign of Four, and watch as he grapples with his attraction to her and his feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness in pursuing her affections.  We can’t relate to Holmes, who Watson calls “an automaton — a calculating machine.”  But we can relate to Watson, who shares our life experiences, our hurts and fears, our joys and triumphs, and it’s through his eyes that we come to appreciate Holmes for more than just his genius.

We also love Watson for his limitations, because they are our limitations. In Doyle’s works, we are given the same information as Holmes and Watson, and yet, like Watson, we “see but do not observe,” as Holmes so eloquently puts it.  I remember the first time I read The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.  I read with avid interest the tale of miss Violet Hunter, who was asking Holmes for advice on whether she should take a position as governess for an eccentric family whose behavior was not really explainable.  As the story nears its conclusion, and Holmes has all the facts, he says,

“Of course there is only one feasible explanation.”

As he gives that quote, and proceeded to explain the circumstances of the weird going’s on at the Copper Beeches, I felt the same thrill and elation that Watson felt.  I had all the information at my finger tips; I knew everything Holmes had known.  And yet, when he gave the explanation, my first thought was “OF COURSE!”  Seeing the story through Holmes eyes, we would have already been given a glimpse of possible explanations.  But seeing it through Watson’s eyes, we see only the incomprehensible because we share his lack of deductive ability.  A narrator who so completely embodies our way of thinking is invaluable, particularly when attempting to relate to a character so eccentric as Holmes.

Watson also proves a valuable and loyal friend.  As mentioned previously, several times throughout the stories, he saves Sherlock Holmes through his decisive actions.  Holmes refers to Watson in The Five Orange Pips as his only friend, and Watson proves his friendship many times over.  Holmes entrusts him with dangerous and sometimes even illegal missions, including breaking into a blackmailer’s house, posing as an art collector to a dangerous cretin, and repeatedly chasing after armed and vicious criminals.  Watson does these things and more, without a second thought.  And he is unafraid to confront his friend about his dangerous drug habits, warning him that such actions will rob him of his remarkable gifts.  Watson is a true friend, and as much as we admire Holmes for his intellect and deductive powers, it is Watson who we look up too, not for his gifts but for who he is as a person.

Sherlock Holmes is a remarkable and unique character.  But his friend and colleague deserves his due recognition, for Watson is also a remarkable person.  In spite of the things he lacks, he more than makes up for those shortcomings through his bravery, loyalty and friendship.  I’ll probably never be like Holmes, but in many ways, I would like to be like Dr. Watson.  As Sherlock said in His Last Bow:

“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age.”

Also, if you haven’t read any Sherlock Holmes stories, you need to.  I suggest starting with the first one, A Study in Scarlet, which can be read here.

Posted in inspirational | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Living Fearlessly

Teddy RooseveltI’ve never been a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt.

I should probably rephrase that.  I’ve never been a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt, the politician.  I’m mostly alone in that regard, as many people, including most historians, widely regard him as one of the nation’s best presidents.  I don’t see it that way, but that’s OK.

Teddy Roosevelt the person is a whole other story.  You don’t have to agree with his politics to see what an inspirational person he was.  Starting life as a sickly, asthmatic child, he grew to be the very epitome of twentieth century manhood, establishing himself at various points in his life as a statesman, an adventurer, a soldier, a scholar, and a writer.  There’s a reason so many biographies have been written about him and we have an undying fascination with his life story.  It’s because he is so intriguing.  We admire Teddy because he did things others didn’t do.  Whether it was charging up San Juan Hill or trekking deep into the Amazon, Teddy did things the rest of us only daydream about.

The thing that I find most fascinating about all this was that Teddy didn’t see himself as exceptional.  Or at least he said he didn’t.  On the contrary, I was recently reading a passage from his autobiography, and found him writing a compelling explanation for the things he did.

Teddy wrote that there are two kinds of successes.  The first kind is the kind that can only be achieved by certain, exceptional individuals who have abilities the rest of us don’t have.  A few weeks ago, New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge hit a 495 foot home run.  Never mind that only a select few are even capable of playing baseball at a major league level; even among those, the ability to crush a ball 495 feet is not exactly common.  That type of success just requires the right person.

But the second type of success is different, wrote Roosevelt.

But much the commoner type of success in every walk of life and in every species of effort is that which comes to the man who differs from his fellows not by the kind of quality which he possesses but by the degree of development which he has given that quality. This kind of success is open to a large number of persons, if only they seriously determine to achieve it. It is the kind of success which is open to the average man of sound body and fair mind, who has no remarkable mental or physical attributes, but who gets just as much as possible in the way of work out of the aptitudes that he does possess.

Roosevelt attributed all of his success to this second type.  It didn’t require talent, it didn’t require exceptionalism, it required nothing but human will and the perseverance to stick with something until they achieved what they wanted.  To act, rather than waiting around to be acted upon.  This was the root of his fearlessness.

There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first, ranging from grizzly bears to “mean” horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid. Most men can have the same experience if they choose. They will first learn to bear themselves well in trials which they anticipate and which they school themselves in advance to meet. After a while the habit will grow on them, and they will behave well in sudden and unexpected emergencies which come upon them unawares.

Fearlessness, Teddy said, did not come to him naturally.  He experienced all sorts of things of which he was afraid.  The key, however, was refusing to let the fear paralyze him from moving forward.  If you steel yourself and meet the challenges you are facing head on, eventually that fearlessness that you pretend to have will become a habit, and that fear will melt away.

It’s not an easy lesson to learn.  It’s one I’m still working on.  Fear usually develops in us at an early age.  I’ve seen this in my oldest son, the way he worries at times whether a specific action will cause “everybody to laugh at me,” in his words.  The truth is, though, most of our fears are unfounded.  We let our perception of what could happen keep us from achieving what WOULD happen if we only pursued it.

My challenge to readers today is, don’t let that be true of you.  In the coming week, do ONE thing that you’ve been afraid to do.  Make a call you’ve been afraid to make.  Attend a meetup where you don’t know anyone.  Do an activity that you’ve been wanting to try but have been too afraid to do.  You will find, like Teddy did, that you too can live fearlessly.

Posted in inspirational | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning the Fundamentals: It’s All in the Details

Liam T-ballMy oldest son is playing tee ball this year.  A friend asked me the other day how his last game went.  My response: “You’ve been to a kids tee ball game before, right?”

I love when kids are into playing baseball.  I love cheering for my son when he steps up to bat, and the excitement and joy that he gets from putting on his uniform and trotting onto the field with his friends.  But a children’s tee ball game is not high quality entertainment.  Most of the kids spend ten minutes hacking at the tee before actually making contact with the ball.  The outfielders spend more time rolling in the grass and picking dandelions than paying attention to what happens at the plate.  When the kids are hitting, you have the batter, the kid on deck, and then seven or eight teammates outside the dugout playing in the dirt.

But if there’s one thing I can appreciate about tee ball, it’s the emphasis on fundamentals.  My son’s coach, whose own family has a long history in the southern Illinois region of playing high school and collegiate baseball, does a pretty great job of stressing the importance of learning the small things.  In a recent post on the team message board, he made the comment, “It’s important to learn the basics at a young age and not get wrapped up in how your child compares to others at young ages.  Kids progress/develop at different ages.  Learning quality fundamentals pays off over time.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  It’s a message I wholeheartedly support.  Tee ball isn’t really about entertainment for the masses.  It’s about kids having fun and learning how to play the game the right way.

And the coach is right.  In time, learning those fundamentals pays off.  Not learning them will cause issues down the road. For example, look at another team I watch, one that IS supposed to be entertaining, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals are currently 4th in their division, 4 games below .500, and over their last 20 games are 5-15.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but a primary one is that they play sloppy, reckless baseball that ignores basic fundamental tenets of the game.  For years, the “Cardinal Way” as personified by legendary coach George Kissell was supposed to be about sharp, crisp, fundamentally sound baseball.  This year’s version apparently didn’t get the memo.  They run into outs on the base paths.  They bobble easy ground balls.  They miss the cutoff man.  Some nights I wish the manager, Mike Matheny, would morph into Jimmy Dugan, Tom Hanks foul mouthed manager from the 1992 film A League of Their Own.  Dugan, whose line “There’s no crying in baseball” was inspired by one of his outfielders repeatedly missing the cutoff man, would no doubt have a mental breakdown if he saw this team playing.  The Cardinals have not learned the essential nature of good fundamental baseball, and consequently, they give away games they should be winning.

In life, I know we often like to use the cliched phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and sometimes take that to mean little details don’t matter.  But this is a misappropriation of the phrase, which is really about not letting minor problems turn into big ones.  The way to do this is often to pay attention to the fundamental details.  It’s in those little, mundane details that we often find the difference between achieving success and experiencing defeat.

Andy Andrews, author of the book The Little Things: Why You Really Should Sweat the Small Stuff, made this observation about Olympic Gold Medalists:

“…the difference really is in little things, because the actual gap between first and second place is most often ridiculously small. In fact, there are multiple Olympic sports in which the difference between first place and tenth place is less than a second.”

It’s in the day to day fundamental details of training that athletes acquire the skill to be George Kissellsuccessful.  Most non-Cardinal fans (and even some Cardinals fans) don’t know about George Kissell.  He never made it to the Major Leagues as a player, and he spent most of his life managing or instructing in the Cardinals minor league system.  But when he died, New York Yankees Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre said “I learned more baseball from George Kissell than from anyone else in my life.”  Another Hall of Fame manager, Sparky Anderson, who also learned from Kissell, said he was “the greatest baseball fundamentalist I have ever known.”

George Kissell made a career out of eating, breathing and sleeping baseball fundamentals.  He understood success is in the small details that are overlooked by people who too often get overly focused on a larger picture and miss what separates the good from the great.  It’s something I’m trying to remember myself, that big picture plans are great, but achievement is found in what I do in the every day.  So examine your own circumstances.  What are the “fundamentals” in your life, or in your career?  Watch those who are achieving goals you want to achieve.  What are they doing on a daily basis, what is the “small stuff” that is separating them from everyone else?  Learn that, and you can start incorporating those details into your own path to success.

As Lao Tzu said; “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Posted in inspirational | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fish and Friendship

zebrafishYou wouldn’t think you could learn a lot about friendship by studying the habits of zebrafish.  But you’d be surprised.  A Portuguese research team actually tried, and they were startled by what they found.  According to an article in Psychology Today:

They placed fish in tanks alone or with other familiar fish, and then injected a substance known to be alarming into the water. The zebrafish showed reduced levels of fear—they froze less—when they could smell the presence of familiar fish and even lower levels if they could see their “friends.” This marks the first time anyone has found evidence of social buffering in fish.

The researchers also found that the patterns of the fish’s brains behaved similarly to those in mammals when they are in the presence of friends.  In other words, what they are learning about fish and friendship is directly transferable to humans.  The same article references studies done on chimpanzees that found that their stress levels and general health were also much more favorable when in the presence of friends.  Per the article:

Chimpanzees and humans share a neurobiological set-up called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is ground zero for stress responses. Imagine that you are preparing to give a speech to a large crowd. That’s enough to induce stress in most of us, and trigger a cascade of hormones along the HPA axis. The end result is that cortisol levels in the blood rise. Higher cortisol levels get you revved up to perform, but can be harmful over time. Being with friends lowers the levels of cortisol and other stress-related hormones.

Studies done on children showed that their moms (or other caregivers) acted as the same sort of social buffer as a fish or chimpanzee’s friends did.  However, when reaching puberty, that changed…for a few brief years, that social buffer didn’t seem to be there (probably explaining why the teenage years are so difficult) but by adulthood, the presence of friends had the same affect on us as it does on fish and chimps.

In today’s high stress climate, good friends are more important than ever.  Society has been fractured and divided by a thousand different points of view, and the pressure that comes from jobs, school, child rearing, and everything else has placed an extraordinary amount of stress on many people.  Knowing you can find comfort and solace in friends will help lessen that stress, and ease your mind.  Here is my recommendation for the week:

  • Go to dinner with a friend.  Or cook dinner for a friend, if you don’t have the funds to eat out.  You’ll be amazed at what something as simple as a meal together can do to relieve high levels of stress.  Talk about something other than politics (or sports, if you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan, like me).  Just enjoy each other’s company.
  • Go to a movie with a friend.  Or, again, if you lack the funds, invite them to your house to watch a movie.  There’s something about the shared experience of watching something you both enjoy together, and then afterwards talking about the things you liked and disliked about it.
  • Do something outside with a friend.  Backyard BBQ, playdate (if you have kids) at the park, maybe go hiking or fishing….it will serve the dual purpose of getting you out of the house, and also sharing time with people you love.  I’ve often found some of my most enjoyable moments with my friends were shared outdoor experiences.

Whatever you do, don’t let the week slip by without spending a moment, even if it’s on the phone, with a friend.  It will help relieve your stress and improve your health.  All you have to do is watch a zebrafish to know that.

Posted in inspirational | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The World is Only 25 Seconds Away

KipchogeDon’t let the clock lie to you…you are within reach of your goal.  Just ask Eliud Kipchoge, one of the world’s fastest human beings.  You might have heard about Kipchoge.  On May 6, 2017, in a special event hosted by Nike, called Breaking2, he was one of three contestants to attempt a feat that had never before been done, for a man to run a marathon in under two hours.  Think this sounds hard?  You would be right.  According to Wired, who announced Nike’s intentions late last year;

“The easiest way to express the difference between potential and performance in the marathon is through two numbers. The first is 1:57:58, which Michael Joyner, a polymathic anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, calculated in 1991 to be the physiological limit for a man in the marathon, the best time possible for a perfect athlete in perfect conditions. The second number is Kimetto’s world record, 2:02:57. In the five-minute gap between those two numbers lie all the things that slow runners down.”

Kimetto would be Dennis Kimetto, who, like Kipchoge, hails from Kenya.  He set the world record in 2014, in Berlin.  Kipchoge, then, was racing to not only beat the man who had set the world record, but to beat him by a full two minutes and fifty-seven seconds.  Such a feat was almost unheard of.

Nike, of course, used this event to promote their brand.  It was a win-win for them.  If Nike_Zoom_Vaporfly_Elite_1_native_1600Kipchoge or one of his fellow contestants broke the record, everyone would know they did it using Nike’s state of the art equipment, including their new Vaporfly Elite shoe.  If no one broke the record, well, Nike still got plenty of exposure.  That they were using Kipchoge says they knew they would need the best, and right now, it’s hard to dispute that he is one of the world’s greatest runners. He has won numerous marathons, including in Berlin and London, and was a 2016 Olympic Games gold medalist.

Nike scientists made a big show of heading to Kipchoge’s training camp in Kenya.  Deadspin said about Nike’s visit, “The Nike scientists noted, aghast, that Kipchoge had never run on a treadmill, had never had his max VO2 tested, and rarely ran with a heart rate monitor…The video showed Kipchoge circling a dirt track, and the 10 feet by 10 feet room he shared with another runner.” Kipchoge’s lack of ambient technological distractions makes his achievements all the more remarkable.  He is great not because of all the benefits modern society offers to world class athletes, but in the absence of them, he is great with the body and legs that the good Lord gave him. As Deadspin wrote regarding Kipchoge’s racing achievements: “He has achieved these feats without treadmills, heart rate monitors, custom shoes, teams of scientists, and frequently without running water. He has achieved these feats because he is a singular athlete—his mind, his determination, his commitment, his physiology, the unfathomable miles and hours he has run.”

When the race started (and the word race is used loosely here, since no one was competing against each other, only against time), the other two runners quickly fell away, and halfway through, only Kipchoge was left.  He was on pace to finish under two hours, until he reached the twenty mile mark.  There, Wired wrote, is when things began to slightly derail. “But then nature, and the laws of human physiology, took its course. He began to suffer from the electrifying pace of his early miles, as lactic acid began to flood his muscles, and his body burned like an oven. His split times drifted by a second or so a mile. One can only imagine what it felt like to be Eliud Kipchoge in those long minutes. Grimaces that looked like smiles started to creep across his usually impassive face, and the speed at which his legs turned over decreased, ever so slightly. It became obvious by the final lap that Kipchoge was not going to break two hours. It was equally obvious that his run was already a triumph.”

Kipchoge finished with a time of 2 hours, 25 seconds.  This was faster than Kimetto, and yet, given the stakes, it still missed the ultimate prize (Kimetto’s mark will still stand due to Nike’s event not following official IAAF regulations).  This is the fastest recorded marathon in human history, and yet, Kipchoge still remains passionate about his purpose. He fully intends to try again to achieve the impossible.  His thoughts were summarized in the Wired article when he said of his next attempt, “The world is only 25 seconds away.”

Many of us would be satisfied with what Kipchoge did.  He beat the best recorded time on record, by a fairly wide margin.  That seems like a pretty significant achievement, but Kipchoge plans on racing again, because his goal was not to beat Dennis Kimetto.  His goal was to run a marathon in under two hours, and he is still 25 seconds away from that.   In spite of the odds against him, Kipchoge intends to try again because he believes that this goal is within his grasp.  Even though it has never been done before, he believes that he can do it.

Kipchoge should serve as an inspiration.  Set your sights high, and do not deviate from it. Celebrate your victories, but don’t let them serve as a distraction for reaching your ultimate destination.  Kipchoge’s focus was not on beating Kimetto, and although he was happy with his time, he won’t be finished until he achieves what he set out to do.  Whatever your goals are, whether they are life goals, physical goals, work goals, or spiritual goals, don’t let the clock lie to you and tell you that you can’t reach them.  Don’t let the minor victories deter you from the major prize.  In the words of Eliud Kipchoge, “The world is only 25 seconds away.”

Posted in inspirational | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Top Five Star Wars Characters

1200px-Star_Wars_Logo.svgIn honor of Star Wars Day (whose oft repeated singular catchphrase of “May the 4th be with you” makes us all sound a little like Mike Tyson), I’m going to list my top five favorite Star Wars characters, and what they have taught me.  Feel free to share your own in the comments section, as well as reasons you like them, and/or lessons you’ve learned from them.  Also, it should be noted that if you haven’t seen various Star Wars properties, including any of the movies, spoilers will be included.

Without further adieu, here are my top five:

ahsoka_tano5. Ahsoka Tano:  Look, I was a little skeptical, after the prequel trilogy, that anything good could come of an animated Star Wars series.  So when one was released, I never bothered watching…until I had a son who became obsessed with Star Wars.  To attempt to pacify his need for everything Star Wars, I watched a few episodes of The Clone Wars on Netflix.  And it was good.  So I watched a few more, and it got even better.  And then I started watching it on my own, without my son, and realized it was actually better than good, it was great.  There are a lot of reasons for its success, but in my opinion one of the top reasons was the introduction of Anakin’s padawan, Ahsoka Tano.  Impetuous but kindhearted, Ahsoka grew over the course of the Clone Wars to become one of the strongest characters of the series.  She shared similar traits to Anakin, being headstrong and independent, but without the whiny childishness that permeated the prequel Anakin (the animated Anakin is far superior and much more tolerable).  What did I learn from watching Ahsoka?  Age and inexperience should not keep you from making a difference.  Ahsoka is young, but she doesn’t hesitate to offer her opinion, or contribute to the team when called upon.  Whether it’s sacrificing herself to blow up an enemy weapons factory, or jumping in to save the lives of others from a deadly virus, Ahsoka never let her lack of experience prohibit her from making a difference.

4.  Rey:  I realize The Force Awakens was a mixed bag.  The plot contained a lot of Rey_Star_Wars.jpgelements from previous Star Wars films, and the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) Han Solo was killed before reuniting with his best friend was kind of a bummer.  That said, I thought the new cast was a terrific addition, none more so than the primary antagonist of the film, Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey.  Dumped on the planet Jakku since she was a child, Rey made a living scavenging, until a certain droid came along that changed everything for her.  There was a lot to like about Rey.  Both Luke and Anakin spent a lot of time whining about their circumstances, while Rey made the best of them.  She was also quick to trust her instincts, a lesson I’m still trying to learn.  Without any formal training, she was able to use the Force to manipulate a Storm Trooper and bring a lightsaber to her through telekinesis.  And she beat Kylo Ren, who had been trained by Luke Skywalker, the first time she ever picked up a lightsaber.  She wasn’t afraid to take a risk when the situation demanded it, and it’s one of the reasons why I loved her character.  But the main thing she teaches is empathy.  Early on, after she meets BB-8, she is given the choice of trading the droid in for more food than she’s ever seen, and on a wasteland like Jakku, this is no small thing.  But Rey hesitates for only a moment before deciding that she won’t sell out her new friend, even for something necessary for her survival.  She’s an empathetic figure who identifies with the plight of others, and it makes her the most likable of the newly introduced characters.

ObiWanHS-SWE3. Obi-Wan Kenobi:  I could write an entire post on why I love Obi-Wan, and maybe I will at some point.  But for now, I’ll try to keep it brief.  Obi-Wan, in my opinion, is the best of the Jedi.  The other Jedi masters are kind of a mixed bag.  Yoda has some good teachings, but he’s also quick to give up on pupils and follows the Jedi tenets to a fault, even when they lead to disastrous consequences.  Mace Windu is just kind of a jerk, who doesn’t seem to like or trust anyone.  Qui-Gon Jin was ok, but he was only in the Phantom Menace which is a major flaw.  But Obi-Wan…Obi-Wan was what a Jedi master should be.  He followed the teachings, but he was also flexible enough to look the other way when they didn’t make any sense.  He was a patient teacher who didn’t give up on his pupils, and those pupils are the major reason why I love Obi-Wan.  Because above everything else, Obi-Wan Kenobi teaches the power of second chances.  His first padawan could not possibly have gone any worse.  He mentored the one person who wiped out the Jedi and plunged the galaxy into darkness for decades.  In terms of teaching experiences, this may have been the worst in the history of the galaxy.  And yet, when offered another chance, Obi-Wan does not hesitate.  Even when it’s the son of his first pupil, who possesses some of the same qualities his father did, even when Luke is far past the age when Jedi training was recommended, Obi-Wan does not back away from the challenge.  And in his willingness to teach Luke in his old age, Obi-Wan teaches that failure isn’t final.  You can make a difference, even if your first attempt was a disaster.

2.  Han Solo:  Han Solo doesn’t exactly start off with the prototypical heroic pedigree. han-solo-return-of-the-jedi_612x380 He’s a smuggler with a shady past, and the only reason he agrees to help our heroes is because he is deeply in debt to one of the galaxy’s most notorious crime lords, Jabba the Hutt.  When placed in a position of being able to rescue Leia, Luke has to appeal to Han’s greed to get him to help.  And yet, by the end of the film, Han shows up to save the day, saving Luke’s life during the attack on the Death Star.  And throughout the subsequent films, Han shows that despite the gruff exterior, inside he has a heart of gold.  He consistently sacrifices his life for his friends and for the Rebellion, even when it profits him nothing.  When Luke gets trapped on the planet Hoth, it’s Han who goes to save him even at the risk of his own life.  When the Rebels need someone to attack the Imperial base on Endor, Han volunteers.  Han Solo teaches all of us that first appearances can be deceiving.  You may look like a scoundrel, but when push comes to shove, you may just be a hero after all.

Darth Vader Rogue One1. Darth Vader:  From the moment he comes striding out of the steam onto the Tantive IV, shaking Rebels down and snapping their necks, Darth Vader became immortalized as the greatest villain on the silver screen.  Bad guys come and bad guys go, but there’s only one Darth Vader.  By the end of Empire, when he reveals that rather than killing Luke’s father, he IS Luke’s father, we are totally sold that he’s the biggest baddie in the galaxy.  The reveal that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker is possibly the greatest plot twist of all time, and it sets up the inevitable redemption story line in Return of the Jedi.  There are so many reasons to love Darth Vader…the mechanical breathing, the awesome suit, the metallic voice of James Earl Jones…that it’s hard to pick one. One of my favorite Darth Vader moments is from the newest Star Wars film, Rogue One, when after having stolen the Death Star plans, Rebel soldiers are attempting to escape a darkened corridor, when you hear the familiar hum and see the blood red light emanating from Vader’s lightsaber.  It’s Vader at his most villainous.  And yet, Vader’s finest hour comes at the end of Return of the Jedi.  Seeing his son being tortured by the evil Emperor Palpatine, Vader chucks his master, the man for whom he betrayed all his friends and the entire Republic, down a ventilation shaft.  Vader proves, in the end, that there really is good to be found in even the darkest heart.

And there you have it.  There are many other characters I love in the Star Wars franchise, all with their own stories and lessons to teach.  Feel free to comment on your favorite characters and why you love them!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment